The Cure for Guilt
by Paul Ellis
The other day I lost my temper. It was only for a moment, but it was enough. Damage was done. Later, I felt sick about what I did and took steps to make amends. This is how guilt works. Guilt is a signal that our lives have been disrupted by sin. Guilt is a sign that a hurt needs to be healed.
But there’s a problem.
Ever since sin was given free leash in the Garden of Eden, guilt has gotten out of control. We feel guilty for things we did and didn’t do. When we do well we feel guilty for not doing better. And when we fail, guilt pounds us. Worst of all, guilt never goes away. Like an alarm that won’t switch off, guilt is the soundtrack to our lives.
Burdened by guilt we may turn to religion in the hope of finding relief. Instead, we encounter the condemning ministry of the law. Religion tells us we’re even worse than we thought. We have not only let down friends and family, we’ve let down God.
With religious zeal we try to make the guilt go away but it’s no use. We keep nine laws but break the tenth. We’re good six days a week but stumble on the seventh. No matter how hard we work, the guilt pile just keeps growing.
Guilt is a killer
I am convinced that guilt and condemnation are at the root of many of our health problems. Guilt breaks us. Our emotional bones were made soft for love, not hard for guilt-bearing.
I was a pastor for ten years and I can tell you that a lot of counseling done in the church is guilt-based. Pastors spend the much of their time helping others manage their guilt. Which is ironic since pastors are the ones making folk feel guilty in the first place. (Please don’t feel condemned my preaching brothers! But please stop preaching mixture. It’s making others sick and sucking the life out of you.)
I’m not here to point fingers. We’re talking about the crippling effects of guilt.
If only there was a cure for guilt. There is!
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:22)
Since the cross is God’s cure for your sin, it is also the cure for your guilt. Do you battle with guilt? Then look to the cross. Your sins are there not here.
Justified = not guilty
To be guilty means to be held responsible for your sin. I’m all for taking responsibility for our mistakes but when it comes to sin all the responsibility in the world isn’t going to clear your sinful name. Your sin burden is simply too great.
On the cross, Jesus took responsibility for all our sin. He literally became sin and in him all sin was condemned (Rom 8:3). The gospel declares your sin problem has met its match in Jesus Christ.
Do you know what this means?
Under law, the best of us is justly charged guilty of sin. But under grace, the worst of us is justly charged righteous, on account of Jesus (2 Cor 5:21).
This is one of the most profound revelations of grace yet many miss it. They say, “I know I am righteous and justified but I still feel guilty.” Connect the dots. If you are righteous and justified, you are not guilty.
“But, Paul, I feel guilty.” That feeling is a symptom of unbelief in the goodness of God. Don’t let that feeling run around like a rat in the attic. Deal with it. Take that feeling and make it bow to the obedience of Christ.
He has forgiven you all your sins: Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over his own head on the cross. (Col 2:13-14, Phillips)
Under the law, there was a long list of charges against you. “You’re a lazy Christian, a lousy parent, and a poor excuse for a human being.” Want to know what Jesus thinks of those charges against you? He nailed them to the cross. Don’t agree with those charges. Agree with Jesus!
Guilt from the Bible?
Many Christians battle with guilt because they’ve not fully grasped the finished work of the cross. They’re filtering life through the obsolete lens of the rule-keeping covenant.
Guilt is what you get when you are constantly told you are not doing enough, giving enough, praying enough. Since this mixed-up message is the predominant theme of graceless Christianity, is it any wonder guilt has become an epidemic?
Much of what gets done in the name of the Lord is motivated by guilt. “Jesus died for you, what will you do for him?” Crumbs. I’d better roll up my sleeves and get busy. “There are people going to hell because you are not evangelizing. Sign up for our outreach and make your guilt go away.” It’s appalling. It’s manipulation of the worst kind and it is about as far from Jesus as you can get.
Making matters worse, many of our Bibles were translated by the guilt-conscious. Do you know how many times the words “guilt” and “guilty” appear in the New Testament? The answer depends on which Bible you’re reading:
2 Young’s Literal Translation
3 American Standard Version
6 King James
13 Message Bible
16 New International Version
34 Good News
What do these numbers mean? They reveal how much guilt is in your reading diet. For instance, if you read the NIV you’re getting nearly triple the guilt that you’d get from the KJV. If you read the Amplified, you’re getting nearly eight times.
Some Bibles should come with a health-warning: “Contains added guilt and traces of religious nuts.”
I looked up all the Greek words for “guilt” and “guilty” in Vines and found there are very few. In fact, Vines spends more time listing words that have been incorrectly translated as guilty. I won’t bore you with the details of my study but here’s an interesting question:
Do you know how many verses there are that say Christians are guilty?
Answer: Zero. Nada. Not one. So the next time you hear a message that makes you feel guilty – that seeks to hold you accountable for something you’ve done or not done – you can safely reject it as unbiblical.
When I lost my temper the other day, I apologized and quickly made amends. There was nothing religious about that. It’s just love. It’s common sense. But dead religion would’ve said, “Paul, you’ve not done enough. Every sin is a sin against God. On account of your sin you are now out of fellowship with him. You broke it, so you fix it. Examine your heart, confess your sin before God and he will wipe your slate clean.”
Such a message appeals to our religious flesh but it’s an anti-Christ and anti-cross pile of manure. Instead of leading you back to the one you hurt, it’ll cause you to withdraw and stare at your navel. Instead of thanking God that in Christ you are always righteous, you’ll waste time asking him to do what he’s already done. Instead of laying hold of the grace that empowers you to sin no more, you’ll beat yourself up like a religious flagellant.
(If you think I’m against confession, I’m not. And if you want to write in and tell me about 1 John 1:9, read this first.)
Learn the new language of grace
Guilt may be the lingua franca of dead religion but it wasn’t a language the New Testament writers spoke. It’s certainly not a language they speak in heaven. If you speak the faithless language of guilt, may I suggest you learn the new language of God’s love and grace.
When you have seen the finished work of the cross, it changes the way you look at your mistakes and failings. You no longer dwell on your weaknesses – there’s no power there. Instead, you fix your eyes on Jesus who was “delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25).
When you sin, the accuser will seek to bring a case against you. And in the eyes of the flawless law, he has a good case! However, the issue is not whether you have stumbled but whether Jesus has been raised. If he has been raised then you have been justified. Case dismissed.
It takes no faith to look at your mistakes and condemn yourself. It takes faith to look at Christ and say, “Because of you, I have been judged not guilty for all time. Thank you, Jesus!”
– Shipwrecked faith
– What makes Jesus sick?
– Seven signs that you’re living under law